Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Donation of a Piece of the "Pell Treaty Oak" to the Manor Club in 1940

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 12, 1940, about 130 members of the Manor Club and their guests gathered for a "historical luncheon" to celebrate Thomas Pell's purchase of the lands that became the Manor of Pelham from Native Americans in 1654.  The celebrants commemorated an event that they believed involved the signing of a treaty to reflect a purchase of about 9,166 acres by Thomas Pell from Siwanoy Indians on November 14, 1654.  Today we know, of course, that the purchase did not involve a treaty, did not occur on November 14, 1654, did not involve "Siwanoy Indians," and was not for about 9,166 acres.  Still, the hearts of the celebrants were in the right place when they celebrated Pell's purchase.

In selling the lands to Pell, local Native Americans signed a simple deed (often referenced as an "Indian Deed") that also was signed by a number of English witnesses.  The document was not any sort of agreement between nations or states.  It was not a "treaty," only a deed.  

I have written before about the confusion that often results in erroneous assertions that Pell purchased his land on November 14, 1654 rather than the actual date of the purchase:  June 27, 1654 (old style Julian Calendar).  See Mon., Nov. 06, 2006:  The Source of Confusion Over the Date Thomas Pell Acquired the Lands That Became the Manor of Pelham.  In short, although Robert Bolton, Jr. had never seen a copy of Pell's Indian Deed, he mistakenly stated in the 1848 and 1881 editions of his two-volume History of Westchester County that the purchase occurred on November 14, 1654.  

I also have written before about the fact that there were no Native Americans known as Siwanoys.  See Wed., Jan. 29, 2014:  There Were No Native Americans Known as Siwanoys.  Pell did not purchase his lands from "Siwanoy" Indians.

Additionally, the vast swath of land acquired by Thomas Pell from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654 covered more than 50,000 acres -- not a mere 9,166 acres as so many have asserted.  Pell's purchase encompassed an area that today includes Pelham Bay Park, City Island and surrounding islands, the Town of Pelham, the City of Mount Vernon, the Town of Eastchester, the City of New Rochelle, and much more -- far more than 9,166 acres.

In any event, local historians and members of the Manor Club gathered at the Manor Club on November 12, 1940 for the right reason:  to celebrate Thomas Pell's purchase.  Significantly, at the outset of the celebration, the president of the Manor Club, Mrs. Hilliard C. Birney, presented the club with a significant artifact that the club continues to cherish to this day:  a piece of the so-called "Pell Treaty Oak."

According to legend -- likely apocryphal -- Native Americans signed the "Indian Deed" granting to Thomas Pell the lands that became the Manor of Pelham under the branches of a massive oak tree that continued to stand on the grounds of today's Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum for nearly three hundred years thereafter until the dying tree was destroyed by fire in 1906.  I have written extensively about the legend including a book on the topic published in 2004 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Pell purchase.  For examples, see:

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2004). 

Bell, Blake, Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 73-81 (The Westchester County Historical Society, Summer 2002). 

Tue., Oct. 16, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1912.

Tue., Jul. 24, 2007:  Article About the Pell Treaty Oak Published in 1909

Mon., Jul. 23, 2007:  1906 Article in The Sun Regarding Fire that Destroyed the Pell Treaty Oak

Wed., May 2, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1922.

Fri., Jul. 29, 2005:  Has Another Piece of the Treaty Oak Surfaced? 

Tue., Jun. 14, 2005:  Ceremony in 1915 to Open Bartow-Pell Mansion as Headquarters of International Garden Club Marred by Tragedy.

With the destruction of the so-called Pell Treaty Oak by fire in 1906, souvenir hunters from across the region sought pieces of the famous tree.  Pieces of the tree exist in various museum collections including those of the New-York Historical Society and the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum.  One member of the Pell family, however, had the foresight nearly two decades before the destruction of the tree to obtain a large piece of the white oak.  His name was Howland Pell.  

Howland Pell presented his piece of the Pell Treaty Oak to another Pell family member, William Cruger Pell, in 1890.  Thereafter, a silver plaque was affixed to the memento.  It was this fragment of the oak with its silver plaque that was presented to the Manor Club on November 12, 1940, some fifty years later.

Fragment of the Pell Treaty Oak in the Collection of the Manor Club.
Photograph by the Author Taken on January 24, 2004.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Detail from the Image Immediately Above Showing the
Silver Plaque Affixed to the Fragment of the Pell Treaty
Oak in the Collection of the Manor Club.  The Plaque Reads:
"A piece of the 'Treaty Oak' under which Thomas Pell made
a treaty with the Indian Sachems for the Manor of Pelham.
Nov. 14, 1654.  Wm. Cruger Pell from Howland Pell.  -- 1890 --"
Photograph by the Author Taken on January 24, 2004.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *           *

Below is the text of an article describing the November 12, 1940 "Historical Luncheon" during which Manor Club president Mrs. Hilliard C. Birney presented a fragment of the so-called "Pell Treaty Oak" to the Manor Club.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"Distinguished Guests Entertained By Mrs. Birney At Historical Luncheon
Purchase of Manor of Pelham Commemorated at Gala Party in Manor Club.  Fragment of 'Treaty Oak' Presented to Manor Club by Mrs. Birney.

Mrs. Hilliard C. Birney, president of the Manor Club was hostess at a gala luncheon party in the clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, commemorating the treaty made with the Indian sachems for the Manor of Pelham by Thomas Pell, first Lord of the Manor on Nov. 14, 1654.

Many distinguished guests were entertained by the club president, among them Mr. Stephen H. P. Pell, descendant of Lord Thomas Pell; Major Montgomery Schuyler, president of the National Society of Colonial Lords of the Manors in America; Miss Arabella Bolton, Princess Te Ata, Mrs. R. Clifford Black, Mr. William R. Montgomery, Historian of the Town of Pelham; the Rev. and Mrs. H. W. Weigle; and Mrs. John H. Rice, Regent of Knapp Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.

Considerable interest was added to the occasion by the presentation of a gift from Mrs. Birney to the Manor Club -- a fragment of the 'Treaty Oak' under which Lord Pell and the Indians made their historic agreement in 1654.  Inscribed with a silver plate marking the gift to William Cruger Pell from Howland Pell in 1890, this historic relic now, through the generosity of Mrs. Birney, becomes the property of the Manor Club.

Introduced by Mrs. Birney, Mr. Pell spoke informally giving a brief sketch of the early history of his family in this county.  Major Schuyler brought the greetings of the organization which he heads, the National Society of the Colonial Lords of Manors in America and told briefly of the historical research of that group.

Rev. Dr. Weigle who is the present rector of historic St. Paul's Church in Eastchester, at one time the parish church of the Pell family, gave a biographical sketch of Bishop Samuel Seabury the first Episcopal Bishop in America who died in 1796.  Mr. Weigle spoke in glowing terms of the labors and accomplishments of this 18th century clergyman, a figure of great conviction and courage, told his audience we are custodians of the victories that have been won by such courageous and forceful men.

William R. Montgomery contributed a brief sketch of Pelham's early history touching on the early Siwanoy Indians who inhabited this part of the country and who left us as a legacy some of the most beautiful trees in the East.  Mr. Montgomery pointed out historic points of interest, such as the spring of 'Living Water,' on the grounds of Bolton Priory and the Sunrise Rock nearby where the Indians were accustomed to greet the rising sun with prayer.  The Town Historian who sketched briefly the coming of Anne Hutchinson to this part of the country and the tragic end she met.

Mrs. Weigle called the years between 1664 and 1731, 'the stormy signal years' of American history 'which came to a crux on the Village Green of Historic St. Paul's Church in Eastchester.  She recounted the Great Election of 1733 when Lewis Morris won a victory under the banner of 'No Tyranny -- Liberty and Law' and the historic Zenger case establishing freedom of the press.

Mrs. Rice, Regent of Knapp Chapter, spoke briefly of the work of the Daughters of the America Revolution, an organization which stands by the principles of the founders of the country and which has for its object the defense of American liberty.  

Also introduced by Mrs. Birney were Princess Te Ata, an Indian princess who presented a program at three o'clock in the club auditorium; Miss Arabella Bolton, representing the Bolton family for so long connected with the history of Pelham; Mrs. R. Clifford Black, representing the late Mrs. Robert C. Black one of the founders of the Manor Club.

The club historians were presented by Mrs. Birney also, Mrs. William B. Randall, Mrs. Edward Penfield, Mrs. James F. Longley, Mrs. John C. Duncan, Mrs. James L. Gerry who holds that post today was unable to be present at the luncheon.  Past presidents of the Manor Club introduced were:  Mrs. Longley, Mrs. Walter B. Parsons, Mrs. Charles M. Chenery and Mrs. Louis Carreau.

Mrs. Birney also introduced a new honorary member of the club, Mrs. James Blaine Walker who has returned to Pelham Manor after an absence of many years.  Mrs. Walker was at one time a chairman of the Drama Section.

Adding historic atmosphere to the luncheon party was a full-sized photographic facsimile of the deed whereby John Pell ceded 6,000 acres of the Manor of Pelham to New Rochelle, loaned for the occasion by Mrs. Francis Kingsley.  Also as a background for the speakers' table were an American flag, loaned by the local Daughters of the American Revolution and a British Flag loaned by the Daughters of the British Empire of New Rochelle.

The luncheon program which was attended by about 130 Manor Club members and their guests was opened by the singing of 'The Blessing' by members of the Choral which is headed by Mrs. William R. Bull, with Frank Butcher at the piano.  Words of the traditional song were written by the late Joan E. Secor first president of the Manor Club and the music by Pearl Curran, (Mrs. Hugh G. Curran).  The Rev. Dr. Weigle gave the invocation.

Mrs. Birney paid a notable tribute to the memory of the late Mrs. Secor.  Throughout the entire club, she said there is a distinct consciousness of her personality.  'A Toast To Pelham,' written by Mrs. Secor was presented by Mrs. Henry E. Dey.

The luncheon tables were decorated with oak leaves, chrysanthemums and grapes and red candles in silver candelabra.

The program closed with singing of 'There'll Always be an England' and 'The Star Spangled Banner' by the Choral.

Arrangements for the luncheon were made by the Social Committee headed by Mrs. Arnold R. Boyd and Mrs. Erville A. Lockwood; the Hospitality Committee, Mrs. C. Furnald Smith and Mrs. Warren L. Swift; flower arrangements, Mrs. James B. Thorpe and Mrs. Edwin A. Jimenis, Garden Section; Music -- Mrs. William R. Bull and Mrs. John H. Almy, Club Choral.

Acting as pages and wearing colonial costumes were Miss Beverly Maxwell, Mrs. William Sylvester, Miss Harriet Shaw.  Also Miss Margaret Boisen, Mrs. Edgar W. Brown and Miss Elizabeth Weigle."

Source:  Distinguished Guests Entertained By Mrs. Birney At Historical Luncheon -- Purchase of Manor of Pelham Commemorated at Gala Party in Manor Club.  Fragment of 'Treaty Oak' Presented to Manor Club by Mrs. Birney, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 15, 1940, p. 12, cols. 3-4.  

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